Veterans' Benefits:

VA Needs Death Information From Social Security to Avoid Erroneous Payments

HRD-90-110: Published: Jul 27, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 27, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined whether the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made substantial erroneous payments to the accounts of deceased beneficiaries under its compensation and pension programs.

GAO found that: (1) if surviving relatives do not report beneficiary deaths to VA in a timely manner, substantial erroneous payments can result; (2) in April 1989, VA paid pension benefits for 1,212 veterans whom Social Security Administration (SSA) records reported had died at least 4 months earlier, resulting in potential erroneous annual payments of $5.7 million; (3) VA paid compensation and pension benefits to about 227,000 beneficiaries who did not have survivors' names and social security numbers on file; (4) VA officials had unsuccessfully negotiated with SSA to gain access to available death information; and (5) VA will continue to make erroneous benefit payments unless all beneficiaries are required to provide social security numbers to VA.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Section 8053 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 required social security numbers as a prerequisite for receiving, or continuing to receive, compensation and pension benefits.

    Matter: To facilitate more complete and effective computer matching between VA benefit payment files and the SSA death file, Congress should authorize VA to require social security numbers of all veterans and their survivors as a condition of eligibility for VA compensation and pension benefits.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1991, VA and SSA signed a memorandum of understanding for the exchange of death information. SSA sent the first tape containing unrestricted state death records to VA in July 1991, and will provide updated death information on a quarterly basis. VA will match the information with VA benefit payment files, independently verify matches, and end erroneous payments.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should: (1) finalize arrangements to obtain access to and periodic updates of the SSA death file and unrestricted death certificate file; (2) match the files with VA benefit payment files; (3) carry out appropriate independent verification of matches; and (4) take prompt action to end erroneous payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1991, VA and SSA signed a memorandum of understanding for the exchange of death information. SSA sent the first tape containing unrestricted state death records to VA in July 1991, and will provide updated death information on a quarterly basis.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to provide VA recurring access to the SSA death file and unrestricted death certificate file.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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